LCEF News, Leader to Leader, Ministry, Outreach

Diversity, Inclusion, and Your Church

February 9, 2017 | Posted by Ken Chitwood

The other day I was spending some time with a friend who is in human resources at a major recreation company. As we talked about his experience and training he reminded me of an important principle: diversity and inclusion are not one and the same.

While we often hear them together, and they are related, diversity and inclusion each have their own meanings and applications. Understanding the difference can help churches build a more welcoming, all-embracing, and multi-ethnic church.

Currently, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (the LCMS, the church I’m part of) is one of the least diverse religious groups in the U.S.

While the nation’s overall population is growing more racially and ethnically diverse – and so are many of its religious groups — the LCMS is not anywhere near keeping pace. Among the Pew Research Center’s recent survey of 30 different religious groups, the LCMS ranked 28th in terms of racial and ethnic diversity (among five racial groups: Latina/os, non-Latina/o whites, blacks, Asians, and an umbrella group titled “mixed-race”). In other words, we are overwhelming, homogeneously, white.

This should not be the case.

As Pastor Mark DeYmaz reminds us, Christ envisions a multi-ethnic church (John 17:20-23), Luke describes such a church in Antioch (Acts 11:19-26; 13:1ff), and Paul prescribes unity and diversity for the local church in his epistle to the Ephesians (Ephesians 2). In other words, looking closely at God’s Word — from Genesis to Revelation — we discover “a very precise theology upon which the multi-ethnic/economically diverse local church should be built, a biblical mandate that cannot be ignored.”

Something needs to change as the LCMS seeks to reach out to the people of the U.S. — regardless of economic or ethnic background.

Perhaps the problem is not our lack of desire for diversity (though that may be an issue), but instead our lack of a supple spirit of, and plan for, inclusion.

A diverse church would be one that invites, disciples, and encourages a mix of people from various cultures and walks of life. It would also include a wide variety of races, genders, ages, ethnicities, education levels, socio-economic classes, abilities, and political and social associations. Through diversity, a church can express the totality of God’s human creation and be blessed with an assortment of perspectives and gifts.

An inclusive church goes the next step and makes concrete moves to recognize, treat, and involve every individual with dignity and respect. This means that equal value is placed on the people of the congregation without regard to their roles, race, gender, or other cultural, social, economic, or political markers.

What’s more, an inclusive church not only recognizes, and invites, diversity, but goes the extra mile to encourage the acknowledgment and confession of anxiety, fear, and stress caused by imbalances or under-representation. This is important because a diverse church is not a cure-all. We are still a bunch of sinners with prejudices, problems, and perspectives that can often come into conflict with our desire for diversity.

And thus, a diverse and inclusive church will not tolerate any favoritism or segregation (Law), but instead, open avenues for a full expression of Christ’s body in all its stunning diversity and comprehensiveness with an eye toward grace and forgiveness along the way (Gospel).

To actually do this will require clearly stated and congregationally endorsed expectations and policies for equality and fair practices in ministry and mission.
Where can your church start? With a conversation.

Pay attention to your community. Who is missing in your pews? Talk to one another. Listen and learn. Dialogue and discern how your church might not only desire diversity but begin to take concrete steps toward inclusion.

There’s so much more that could be said about why and how, but let us at least begin with a posture of openness toward diversity and a commitment to inclusion. Amen.

Ken Chitwood
Ken Chitwood is a religion scholar, Ph.D. student, and graduate assistant at the University of Florida studying ethnography of Religion in the Americas and global Islam with emphases on globalization, transnationalism, and immigration. Chitwood is a forward-thinking Lutheran theologian, preacher and popular speaker who weaves together historical context, societal exegesis, and a fair dose of ironic humor. He enjoys ultra-distance running, well-placed sarcasm, craft beer, bike-commuting, traveling, hiking, camping, and rugby.